Serving Arizona State University Online Since 1995  Current Issue: Thursday, September 08, 2005





Culture Shock: Live Suryoyo

This ASU student keeps an ancient language alive

 by Stephanie Berger
 published on Thursday, September 8, 2005


When bioengineering graduate student David Akkurt, 25, watched "The Passion of the Christ," he didn't need to read the subtitles.

That's because Akkurt is fluent in Aramaic.

Akkurt, who was born in Turkey and moved to the United States in 1990, was raised speaking both Turkish and Aramaic. Aramaic is the ancient language that scholars say Jesus spoke. The language and culture originated in Syria, where Akkurt's ancestors lived.

Akkurt is Suryoyo, a term derived from the word "Syriac," which describes his cultural origins, just like saying a person from the United States is American.

He says the Suryoyo culture is like Greek or Italian with similar food, customs, values and a religion comparable to the Greek Orthodox faith.

When Akkurt's family first moved to America, they spoke no English. He says he learned by immersion in school and watching "Sesame Street."

"I studied math, because it was the only thing that made sense to me," Akkurt says.

According to ASU Professor Don Benjamin's book, "Old Testament Story, an Introduction," Aramaic was spoken in ancient Damascus, Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine. Hebrew is a derivative of Aramaic.

With only a handful of people left worldwide who speak Aramaic, Akkurt says he thinks preserving the culture is very important. That's why he started the ASU club, Live Suryoyo. He got the idea from clubs in New York City that patterned their names after the Livestrong bracelets.

The ASU club will seek to educate students about Suryoyo culture, the Aramaic language and the Syrian Orthodox religious traditions.

For more information, contact David Akkurt at

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